By JEROD CLAPP
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
The looped letters of cursive handwriting have moved in and out of state-required curriculum in Indiana since 2011. But whether made optional or required, cursive has largely stayed in the lessons of schools in Clark and Floyd counties.
Indiana’s Department of Education removed the handwriting skill out of its mandatory curriculum in July 2011. But Senate Bill 120, introduced in February to put cursive back in required curriculum, passed the senate in a 36-13 vote and has moved to the state House of Representatives.
Whether the bill passes or not, the representatives from the four districts in the area said they expect to continue teaching cursive in classrooms.
In Greater Clark County Schools, supervisor of assessments Karen Spencer said cursive has remained part of the curriculum for second- and third-graders in spite of its removal from Common Core Standards. She said though the state is pushing Common Core more, her district has eased into the transition.
“We’ve been phasing it in and not completely following Common Core anyway,” Spencer said. “It was just never included in those standards and I think that’s what’s caused all the controversy in schools whether they’d teach it or not.”
She said as part of their language arts curriculum, second- and third-graders spend about 30 minutes on handwriting and literacy, but teachers can incorporate cursive into that as they choose, whether it’s in letter formation or introducing the letters.
She said after the Department of Education stopped requiring cursive, parents called in to make sure they weren’t dropping the practice. But she said cursive remains an important skill as students get older.
“You have those parents that want to hold onto the old curriculum, but they think it’s important for kids to be able to write,” Spencer said. “They still have to sign their name, they still have to fill out forms and write checks. There are things they’ll have to do as adults where they’ll have to write. I think the fear that those skills wouldn’t be taught to them was a concern.”
But she said students are also introduced to technology and keyboarding skills through a set of programs for grades kindergarten through eighth grade.
NEW ALBANY-FLOYD COUNTY
Michele Day, director of elementary education and Title I, said the district has moved around with teaching cursive over the last couple of years. When the state said it was no longer a requirement, they largely removed it from their curriculum, but have put it back in place for incorporation to other lessons.
“There are a lot of priorities in teaching these days, especially in elementary with the core learning of math, science, English, reading and everything else,” Day said. “We work hard to get all of that integrated with everything else, so with handwriting, we get it in with the context of those other subject areas.”
Much like the other districts, she said the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp. has cursive integrated with other subjects, like social studies and parts of English, beginning in the third grade.
Day said students get excited about learning cursive, but she said familiarity with tablets and computers is also important in elementary schools.
“Children like to write in cursive. They think it’s a big deal going from manuscript to cursive,” Day said. “They catch on very, very easily. It’s the same with keyboarding and technology — many of them outperform adults. They’re digital natives. They don’t know a world without technology.”
She said if students seem to have trouble with learning cursive, teachers have resources and interventions they can employ. But she said she thinks cursive is still an important skill to teach how to write in a way that’s easy to read.
“In order to be able to communicate in the written form, the audience you’re writing for has to be able to read that,” Day said. “We’ve always had an emphasis on our students writing legibly because that just makes sense. There’s always been this approach in that what we’re teaching our children in writing ... the emphasis has always been there to write legibly.”
At Clarksville Elementary School, principal Kathy Gilland said teachers set aside time to teach letter formation and eventually, incorporate cursive into other lessons. Social studies teachers for example, she said, might require students to write vocabulary words in cursive.
She said usually beginning in the third grade, students start learning how to write in cursive. But she said it’s more than just getting the skill. It’s also something students see as taking a step forward in their academic careers.
“They do it as a rite of passage — they want to be able to read their parents notes, so they have a motivation to learn it,” Gilland said. “There are certain children that it corrects reversals. For example, B and D. In print, sometimes those letters are difficult for children. In their head, they know which letter to put down on paper, but when they make the move to do it, they sometimes forget. In cursive, they know what to put down.”
She said since the letters have to connect, it helps some children learn the correct way to write letters without getting them backwards. She also said she thinks cursive is a little faster to write than manuscript, which could help students when they’re taking notes in class.
But she also said getting any new required piece of curriculum can be difficult when there’s already a lot that teachers have to squeeze into a school day. She said making that happen requires creativity on the part of teachers.
Her students get a weekly class in technology where they learn basic computer functions, how to use various programs and get lessons in keyboarding.
“We’re going to have to use both of them, just depending on what situation you’re in,” Gilland said. “We want to have our students prepared for all situations in life.”
John Reed, assistant superintendent of West Clark Community Schools, said while his district incorporates cursive handwriting into classes without spending dedicated blocks of time on the lessons, the decision to teach or not to teach has support on both ends of the spectrum.
“There are areas in education where you can find research either way,” Reed said. “There’s as much research on why you should use cursive writing as there is on why it doesn’t matter. Generally, when you’re talking about second or third grade, that’s when a district will teach children to write in cursive.”
Teachers in West Clark begin incorporating cursive in the second semester of second grade and the first semester of third grade, Reed said. While teachers have to spend a little time getting students familiar with cursive, he said it’s not definitive on how much it matters in national studies.
But he did have a suggestion on how to teach students cursive on the fly — find a way to reprogram their cell phones to only display letters in cursive.
“I guarantee you they’ll learn it overnight,” Reed said.
But he said while parents make arguments that cursive is needed to teach students how to sign documents with a signature or write out checks, the digital age has computerized a lot of the things people used to write and sign for.
“How applicable is this to real-life situations? It’s like the old arguments in math whether you should let kids use a calculator or not,” Reed said. “We’ve kind of given into that even on state tests. With cursive, how many real applications does a person use cursive?”
He said students in West Clark schools don’t have dedicated time with keyboarding in elementary schools, but used to for sixth and seventh graders until about five years ago.
But he said the district has considered introducing keyboarding as early as kindergarten, with keyboard diagrams hanging up in classrooms.